7 top tips for dads-to-be
Congratulations, you're pregnant! Well, your partner is, anyway — but it can certainly feel as if you're the pregnant one, especially in terms of your suddenly massive feelings of responsibility toward your partner and child.
Becoming a dad is not just about helping with middle-of-the-night feeds and doing your fair share of nappy changes. It's also not just about providing financially for your family. Fatherhood is a complex and emotional state of being, with a set of rights and responsibilities that are, unfortunately, a bit less clear-cut than those afforded to mothers-to-be.
When your co-workers, friends and relatives found out you were going to be a dad, they probably congratulated you and moved right on into saying things like, "Your life will never be the same again!" Bet that made you feel really positive, eh? More than likely it scared the you-know-what out of you, even though you took great pains to act nonchalant. Yes, having a child changes your life -- but it's not as bad as you might fear it will be.
1. It's up to you how involved you want to be in your the pregnancy. Most pregnant women will melt at the sight of their husband reading a book on fatherhood or even that classic pregnancy standby What to Expect When You're Expecting (which also comes in a tongue-in-cheek dad-friendly version called What to Expect When Your Wife Is Expanding). Your partner's body is going to be going through a lot of changes, and getting bigger is the least of them. Her hormones will morph out of control, her moods will swing wildly, she may have morning sickness that lasts all day, and her energy levels will fluctuate heaps, especially in the first and third trimesters.
2. One of the best things you can do for your relationship is to try to take all of this in stride. It's not her fault that she feels like an alien has taken over her body -- that's what's actually happening. If it's freaking you out, don't just withdraw or get upset with her. Talk to her about how you feel. Remind her that she isn't alone. Ask her what you can do for her, and for your relationship.
3. It's also perfectly normal to be worried about how you're going to provide for your new family, especially if your partner is going on extended maternity leave or leaving work altogether. Finances are often top of the list for dads-to-be, and you may feel like you can't talk to your partner about this issue as you don't want to add any more to her already full plate. If money is a concern to you, talk to your partner about it. If she's already in paid employment, she may qualify for paid parental leave for the first few months of her maternity leave, or your family may qualify for a tax credit. You, the dad, may also be able to take some paid parental leave time in order to stay home and help with the baby for the first few weeks. Talk to the IRD and your employer about what provisions exist in terms of paid parental leave and assistance for families. Find out if your employer offers help with budgeting as part of their employee assistance programme, or look at community services in your area for help with this. You may need to rethink your finances and budget for a while, but it's not an insurmountable problem. And remember, there are more important things you can provide for your child than money -- your time, attention, and love are much more important than the flashest pram or fancy cot.
4. Pregnancy can be mystifying for dads-to-be as you're not the one experiencing all of the physical changes, yet you're directly affected by what's going on. The midwife or specialist may direct all of their questions and comments at your partner and only include you when it's time to hear the baby's heartbeat ("Hear that, Dad?"). You are allowed and encouraged to ask questions of your partner's lead maternity caregiver (LMC). This is your baby, too, and your partner will be more than happy you want to be involved. It will also help to build a good rapport with your partner's LMC -- and then you won't show up at the birth feeling like a stranger in a strange land. Get to know your partner's LMC. After all, they're going to be seeing parts of your wife's body that you thought only you had access to.
5. Antenatal classes are also a great way to get involved with the pregnancy and imminent labour. Most antenatal classes are becoming more and more couple-focused rather than just focusing on the needs of the mum-to-be. Yes, you'll probably be put on the spot during the class when the teacher asks you to approach the rather graphic poster of the female reproductive system and point out the cervix -- but remember, all the other dads-to-be in the class are in the same boat. Antenatal classes are actually an excellent forum for meeting other fathers and see how they feel about the pregnancy, even if you just observe them rather than asking flat out. You'll also learn heaps of practical information about birth and newborn baby care. Check your inhibitions at the door and try to get into the spirit of things.
6. One of your biggest concerns is probably how you are going to get through the labour. You may be worried about how to be supportive without getting screamed at for saying stupid things. One dad-to-be we know asked his wife how she was enjoying labour so far -- after she'd been in excruciating pain for over 24 hours and was waiting desperately for an epidural to be administered. While women may gasp in horror at such a seemingly obvious faux pas, it turns out the poor guy was totally unprepared for what labour would be like and was simply trying to make conversation. So he said the first thing that came to his head.
7. When the baby is born, people don't ask how the labour was for the father. Dad's have the privilege of making all the phone calls telling relatives the news, and some less fun jobs like finding water for the flowers, or run down to the supermarket to get more sanitary pads. Remember -- this is your baby, too. You are the only dad this baby has, so make your role count right from the start.
Recommended reading for dads-to-be:
- The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be, by Armin A Brott and Jennifer Ash
- Don't Just Stand There! How to Be Helpful, Clued-In, Supportive, Engaged, Meaningful, and Relevant in the Delivery Room, by Elissa Stein and Jon Lichtenstein
- The Guy's Guide to Surviving Pregnancy, Childbirth and the First Year of Fatherhood, by Michael R Crider
- The Joy of Fatherhood: The First Twelve Months, by Marcus Jacob Goldman, MD
- Safe Baby Handling Tips, by David and Kelly Sopp